How to eat to strengthen your mind
“Egg yolks are high in choline, which is a precursor for acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter critical for memory and brain function,” says nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville (marilynglenville.com). “This makes them a great food to help protect your mind from the ageing process. They are also a good source of vitamin B12 (which is hard to find in plant foods), as well as vitamin B2 and selenium. Eggs are a natural source of phospholipids, which are nutrients that nourish the brain and nerves.”
“Celery, peppers and carrots are all rich in luteolin, which helps to support your memory,” Shona Wilkinson, lead nutritionist at Nature’s Best (naturesbest.co.uk) tells us. “Studies have shown that this flavonoid may reduce inflammation in the brain and have a protective effect against neurodegeneration. It’s early research, but increasing your vegetable intake has many other health benefits too, so tuck in!”
“Spinach is a good source of folic acid and vitamin C, both of which are needed for the production of neurotransmitters (substances that transmit nerve signals) in the brain,” says Dr Marilyn. “Like other green vegetables, it’s also a source of chlorophyll, which may favour the absorption of iron and promote red blood cell growth to improve oxygen transport around the body and to the mind.” Iron is also important for strengthening your brain, as Stephanie Beecroft, nutritionist at Pure Package (purepackage.com) explains. “Iron deficiency has been linked to poor cognitive function, therefore it’s vital to consume enough of it in your diet – pack your plate with red meat, fish and dark green leafy vegetables.”
“Eating 10 almonds a day can do great things for your health, as well as your levels of concentration and your mood,” says Frida Harju- Westman, in-house nutritionist at health app Lifesum (lifesum.com). “They contain riboflavin, which not only boosts brain activity, but can also reduce the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Almonds are a source of phenylalanine, which is instantly absorbed by the body and works to produce adrenaline and dopamine. These two hormones leave us feeling relaxed, increasing your alertness and reflexes and improving your memory.”
“We’ve all heard of fish being great mind food, and there is a reason for this,” says Dr Marilyn. “Almost 60 percent of our brains are made up of fat, and about half of that is DHA omega 3 fatty acids, which really can only be found in fish. These are known as essential fats, because our bodies can’t make them so we have to get them through food or a supplement. They are needed for our brain cells to pick up our neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, so they can be utilised efficiently.” It’s particularly important to increase your intake of fish as you get older, Shona explains. “DHA levels in the brain decrease with age, and lower amounts have been linked to memory decline. Cold-water species such as mackerel, herring, salmon and tuna have the highest levels of omega 3 fatty acids and contribute the largest amount of DHA to your diet.”
“Eating a handful of pumpkin seeds every day will provide you with the recommended daily levels of zinc, which is vital for increasing your brainpower by enhancing memory and focus,” Frida explains. “These seeds are packed with nutrients that your mind will love, such as proteins, amino acids, minerals, vitamins and complex carbohydrates. Snack on them halfway through the morning or late afternoon to ward off hunger and give your brain a boost.” These nutritional powerhouses also contain copper which is linked to improved learning and recall.
“Drinking cocoa halfway through the day, or having a bar of 85 percent dark chocolate on hand to snack on is a good way to increase your alertness and concentration, as proven by a study at Northern Arizona University,” says Frida. “This confectionery produces endorphins and serotonin, which both work to boost your memory. It’s also a good source of antioxidants and minerals such as potassium and magnesium, which contribute to controlling your blood pressure. While dark chocolate has less sugar and fat than other varieties, you should still be mindful of the calories and not overindulging.”
This nut doesn’t just look like a brain, thanks to its distinctive folds and wrinkles, but it’s also beneficial for the organ, too. “Walnuts are rich in polyunsaturated omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids,” says Dr Marilyn. “These components of our cell membranes make up a significant part of the grey matter of the brain. They are also a good source of magnesium, which has an important role in the healthy functioning of our nervous system.”
Load up your plate with this cruciferous veg – “Broccoli is a good source of vitamin K, which is essential for forming sphingolipids,” says Stephanie. “This is a certain type of fat that’s packed into brain cells. Broccoli also contains sulphurophane, which removes toxins from the body and reduces inflammation.” Algae supplements have a similar effect, too. “Spirulina and chlorella bind to heavy metals, improving brain function, and chlorella has been found to prevent cognitive decline in older adults,” Stephanie explains.
“Flax seeds contain ALA (alpha linoleic acid), a healthy fat that improves the function of the cerebral cortex, an are of the brain associated with motor skills and spatial awareness,” says Dr Marilyn. “Try adding a tablespoon to your smoothies, or stirring a handful into yoghurt.” That’s not the only benefits of these seeds – they’re also a good vegetarian source of omega 3.
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